Press "Enter" to skip to content

Senate joins House in failing to ‘decriminalize’ cannabis

The full state Senate on Monday killed the last chance this legislative session to make marijuana use more lenient by increasing amounts of possession while reducing fines.

The death of both Senate Bill 2487 to “decriminalize” marijuana — along with an earlier effort to fully legalize recreational marijuana use for adults — reflects both Hawai‘i’s generally socially conservative nature and unprecedented opposition organized by city Prosecutor Steve Alm, said Colin Moore, who teaches public policy at the University of Hawai‘i and serves as associate professor at the University of Hawai‘i Economic Resource Organization.

“I can’t say I’m terribly surprised. This is not California,” Moore said. “This to me is a demonstration of the fact that the Legislature remains socially conservative, which is not always fully understood about Hawai‘i politics. We’re a Democratic state, but we’re not a progressive state. A lot of our legislators are very cautious and they didn’t feel a tremendous amount of pressure from their constituents to legalize this.”

During Monday’s Senate floor session attended by 24 of 25 senators, eight senators voted yes on SB 2487, including one who voted yes with “reservations.”

But 15 senators voted against decriminalization.

The bill would have reduced the fine for possessing — or “promoting” — less than an ounce of marijuana to $25 down from $130. Anyone found guilty of “promoting” over an ounce would face a petty misdemeanor. Two ounces or more would be punishable by a misdemeanor.

The bill included a new offense of smoking cannabis in public, punishable by a fine of $130.

Unlike the failed effort to make adult recreational use legal, several senators said Monday that SB 2487 contained none of the same “guard rails” to help protect the public, especially children, and would send the wrong message to young people that marijuana use would be acceptable in Hawai‘i while vaping and tobacco use are discouraged.

State Sen. Sharon Moriwaki, (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana- Kakaako), voted no after saying that decriminalization would send “the wrong message to keiki.”

The 51-member House previously voted to decriminalize marijuana over the objections of 14 Democrats and all Republicans who voted.

Prosecutor Alm told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser following Monday’s Senate vote that even he — as a Circuit Court judge involved in Hawai‘i’s Adult Drug Court — did not fully understand the dangers of today’s more potent marijuana on impaired driving, mental health and, especially, on minors who can be afflicted with “marijuana use disorder.”

“As a judge, I was looking at meth and coke and alcohol and not looking at marijuana, in particular,” Alm said.

After doing more research on the risks, Alm said he and other opponents remain “totally against” legalization and decriminalization while supporters are likely to push similar bills next session.

“I want to thank the Senate for looking at this … Kids think that anything that is legal must be safe,” Alm said.

The perennial effort in the Legislature to legalize adult recreational use through Senate Bill 3335 died earlier this month after House Finance Chair Kyle Yamashita declined to hold a vote on it.

Hawai‘i would have become the 25th state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize recreational use.

In a statement at the time, Yamashita called the issue “deeply divisive.”

“This year marked its furthest progression, with SB 3335 narrowly passing its second reading,” Yamashita said. “Due to numerous concerns regarding the implementation of the bill, the House has decided against further deliberation in the House Finance Committee. This decision is strengthened by the prevailing ‘no’ votes from committee members expressed on the House floor.”

House Speaker Scott Saiki said in a statement at the time that “In hearing the overwhelming testimony and serious concerns from members of Hawai‘i’s law enforcement industry, this bill requires further consideration of the impact legislation will have on our children, economy, and overall well-being.”

Opposition included former Gov. Linda Lingle, who testified before the Legislature for the first time since leaving office in 2010.

Lingle, a Republican who served her first of two gubernatorial terms beginning in 2002, called SB 3335 “a very dangerous bill” during a hearing of the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce.

Nikos Leverenz, board president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai‘i, told the Star-Advertiser on Monday that he was disappointed that both legalization and decriminalization failed this legislative session.

He vowed to return next session “on both the decriminalization front and adult recreational front. We’ll be back next session and however many sessions it takes.

“We’re going to help ensure that half of the country lives in a jurisdiction where adult cannabis use is legal,” he said.

Asked about concerns expressed in the Legislature over Hawai‘i’s youth, Leverenz said, “it shows how skewed government priorities are when it comes to alcohol use and other drugs. Alcohol is far more damaging. There have been no documented fatalities for abuse of pot versus alcohol. Today’s youth can see through the Nixon-Reagan-Bush rhetoric of yesteryear.”

Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are disproportionately punished for marijuana crimes, he said.

In a statement, Leverenz also said that, “From 2011-2020, 3,817 juveniles were arrested for cannabis possession across the state. Over that same time span, 7,457 adults were arrested. … Hopefully next year’s Legislature will produce a bona fide recalibration of cannabis policy in Hawai‘i.”
Source: The Garden Island

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply